Hong Kong transport operators, supermarket cut services as Covid-19 surges

Hong Kong transport operators, supermarket cut services as Covid-19 surges
epa09798422 Construction work takes place on the site of a temporary Covid-19 isolation facility in San Tin, Hong Kong, China, 03 March 2022. The facility, located near the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, is under construction as the Omicron variant has brought the city's public health system close to collapsing. EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE

HONG KONG, March 3 (Reuters) - Hong Kong's subway operator, bus and ferry companies, and one of its biggest supermarket chains, are cutting back services due to a worsening COVID-19 outbreak that has seen daily infections explode this year.

Authorities reported a new daily record of 56,827 new infections and 144 deaths in the Chinese-ruled city on Thursday, an exponential rise from around 100 in early February and a clean three-month streak of zero cases at the end of 2021.

The surge in cases and mixed messaging from government officials have triggered an exodus of people from the global financial hub, where authorities are clinging to a “dynamic zero” policy that seeks to eradicate all outbreaks.

Many restaurants and shops have closed, while its main financial district is eerily quiet and few people are out in normally bustling neighbourhoods.

Hong Kong’s Transport Department said 98 bus routes would be suspended with operators facing critical manpower shortages.

A surge in staff infections coupled with a drop in passenger traffic due to stringent social distancing measures made it hard to maintain operations, it said in a statement late on Wednesday.

The city’s subway operator, MTR Corp 0066.HK, said it would cut services on eight lines.

“We have been striving to maintain train service despite the worsening COVID-19 situation. However, the latest development of the pandemic is affecting the manpower for daily operations,” it said on its website.

Two ferry operators that ply the city’s harbour between the main island of Hong Kong and the Kowloon peninsula said they would suspend services until further notice.

ParknShop, one of the city’s largest supermarket chains, said it was shortening operating hours for more than 200 outlets to protect its staff and customers, with some closing as early as 3.00 pm.

Health experts from the University of Hong Kong estimated about 1.7 million people had been infected as of Monday, with the coming week expected to bring a peak of about 183,000 daily infections.

About 1,000 inmates and 1,000 staff at the city’s prisons have been infected, “seriously affecting various correctional facilities,” the government said on Thursday.



There has been widespread confusion this week because of mixed messages from authorities over whether a city-wide lockdown would be imposed and the almost daily tweaking of coronavirus rules.

Highlighting growing public frustration, prominent businessman and government adviser Allan Zeman said Hong Kong’s international reputation had been “very damaged” and alarm had been created by the confusing messages.

Supermarket and pharmacy shelves have been emptied daily by anxious residents stocking up despite government assurances that in any type of lockdown people would be able to buy necessities.

City leader Carrie Lam has said the government had no plan for a “complete lockdown” while it conducts compulsory testing of the city’s 7.4 million residents. The government would announce details of the plan when finalised, she said.

Hong Kong has implemented its most draconian rules since the pandemic began with international travel restricted, most venues shut and a ban on public gatherings of more than two people.

Many members of the public fear being forced to isolate and separated from their families if they test positive, prompting an exodus, particularly of expatriates.

Some Western diplomats said the government had been “refusing to engage” in recent weeks on coronavirus strategy and compulsory testing, not replying to requests for clarification on policy as the outbreak worsens.

This was making it difficult for them to advise their citizens what to do, they said.

Restrictions mean very few international flights can operate through Hong Kong but nevertheless more than 70,000 people left the city in February, the most since the start of the pandemic, according to government data.

About 300 Swiss nationals are planning to leave on a flight in coming days, media reported. A spokesman for the Swiss consulate said it was aware of the flight but could not provide details.

By Farah Master.

(Reporting by Farah Master; Additional reporting by Marius Zaharia, Twinnie Siu, James Pomfret, Greg Torode and Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Cynthia Osterman, Rob Birsel and Tomasz Janowski)


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.